Review: “Halo” by Alexandra Adornetto

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Not content with torturing herself with the heinous Tiger’s Curse series, friend and guest contributor Vanessa returns with her thoughts on a notorious paranormal romance YA. Our thoughts are with her. 

There was a time in my life when I was super impressed with authors like Christopher Paolini got published at a young age. Of course, I didn’t know anything about his publishing connections, but reading Eragon for the first time when I was 13 made me wonder if I actually could start writing and also get a book out there. I wrote all sorts of tawdry crap, and looking back on it now is absolutely painful. I only had a vague understanding of how to build worlds and create characters, I over-utilised my thesaurus and any attempts at emotive writing were really maudlin affairs that just seemed completely telegraphed with no sense of build-up. I insisted I was a serious writer, though, and although I never plucked up the courage to submit my writing to a publisher, I did put writing on the back-burner for several years while I sorted out what I was going to do with the rest of my life. I’m glad that I did. I would be seriously embarrassed, not as an author but as a human being, if I ever wrote and believed in the same crap espoused in Halo.

Halo does not give you a thrilling story with loveable characters and deep emotional connections. Halo is a depiction of romance written by an immature sixteen year old following a Twilight binge. It throbs with purple prose and is devoutly conservative and preachy. Girls who are in any way sexually active are demonised, love is presented as co-dependency and idolisation rather than a sweet, romantic relationship, there are plot holes that one could drive the Knight Bus through, as well as several elements of Twilight that the book apes almost wholesale. (One such example: going to a town called Port ____ to go shopping for formalwear. Seriously.)

The book sets us up with rather grand stakes, in that God has deemed this one little town in the US to be in need of the counsel of an archangel, a seraph and a regular angel named Bethany. There’s demonic activity brewing in the area, and it’s up to our angels to stop it.

But, psh, who cares about that when there’s a hot boy called Xavier for Bethany to swoon over and question her angelic status? Our angelic trio (well, Gabriel and Bethany – Ivy the seraph is stuck at home) decide to attend school to make people get back in touch with their spirituality. Supposedly, the mere act of an angel being nice or organising a social awareness programme turns even the most ardent atheist into a ‘good church-goer’. Rather than do the logical thing, which would be to throw themselves into investigating the demonic activity, or doing volunteering in the town, so they can see the trouble first hand, they just shrug their shoulders and stay indoors watching movies to learn how to acclimatise to human life, and give humans the cold shoulder. While living in a huge Georgian-style mansion with a baby grand in the living room, mohair blankets and cashmere throws.

Ivy, despite outranking Gabriel several times over in angel lore, is reduced to playing second fiddle. It’s always Gabriel who has the right solution to a problem, or who convinces people into making the right choice. Gabriel, the archangel who revealed the birth of Christ and watched Sodom and Gomorrah burn, now teaches music at school and surfs. I’m quite sure that’s sacrilegious in Catholic doctrine, to anthropomorphise an angel like this, but who cares about that when Bethany can talk at length about his bronzed skin and perfectly sculpted body?

I don’t quite know how a book this preachy was brought out by a major publisher, when it firmly belongs in some Christian publishing house’s slush pile, and not marketed as the latest hot teen romance novel. As well as preachiness about religion, you’ll be forced to swallow down preachiness about conservatism and the vegan lifestyle, as well as the behaviour and musings of an immature, pathetic main character who does everything but focus on the mission for over 200 pages. Once Xavier and Bethany become an item, the plot flails weakly for anything that could provide something of interest, before the demonic villain Jake Thorn finally comes into the picture. In the last 120 pages or so. I was reading an e-book version with no page listings, but believe me, the middle of this book dragged out so much that when the villain finally showed up, I was cheering and whooping and hoping for him to actual kick the plot up its backside.

Which he does. In a rather ridiculous manner. I’m sorry, you’re telling me that an angel who regularly attends church service, reads the Bible and prays daily wouldn’t have the slightest suspicion when a guy with a snake tattoo, dark clothing and drops more than a few obvious hints about his otherworldliness? Like his reluctance to attend church?

Speaking of this, the book has several research fails — for somebody who claims to be interested in theology, the author thinks that an angel would have no idea what alcohol is, and continue to sip at an alcoholic drink even though it’s making her feel funny (um, what about Eucharist…?), and has only a rudimentary grasp on angelic lore. There’s references to Lucifer and God’s covenant of archangels, and also this implication that archangels are the most important in the hierarchy of angels, compared to a frigging seraph who has little to do except hand out fair trade leaflets and bake cookies for the church bake sale.

Xavier and Bethany’s relationship isn’t a cute little romance. At times, it’s even got these creepy daddy/daughter tones. Xavier treats Bethany as if she’s made out of glass, pushes her into eating when she’s not hungry as if he implicitly knows what’s best for her, and I lost count of how many times Bethany states throughout the narrative that she needs Xavier and without him her world shatters. Or something to that effect.

There’s a way to do romance, and this is not it. Bethany and Xavier don’t have a magnetic attraction, we’re TOLD over and over that they do, rather than shown the extent of their relationship. One or two shocking moments along the way pale in comparison to all the times we have to sit through every single cheesy moment where they talk about how they love cuddling and kissing along the jawline or dribbling over each other. (Theological scholars – isn’t that idolatry? Bethany’s devoting herself to Xavier more than she is to God, right? Answers on a postcard, please.)

I fail to see what the problems are in Venus Cove that would require a visit from an archangel and a seraph. I mean, there have apparently been car crashes and mysterious epidemics, but the decision to set this book in Georgia is kind of glaringly faulty. Georgia is a state where a large portion of the population are Christian – Southern Baptists, to be precise. There’s some overlap with Baptist and Catholic practices, so I guess I’ll let the obvious Catholic overtones slide, but let’s take a look at Venus Cove. It’s a town of 3,000 people on the Georgia coastline. (Speaking of which, the exact location is not mentioned in my copy – I had to read Hades to find out if we were in the United States or just some beach town in Australia.) There are beaches, a 1950s-style pavilion and promenade, and nearly every character we meet lives in a large house and attends a respectable Christian private school. What on earth could be plaguing people who are so, so rich and privileged to be able to live in a picturesque coastal town and living in a gigantic house?

The book could have had this subplot about how wealth doesn’t make you happy. How the people in Venus Cove have no sense of community, because all everybody does is try to out-compete one another, there are family feuds over inheritances, and there are people who have scaled the mountain of success and promptly discovered that that being on top of the world has not given them the happiness they thought it would. That would make for a premise that our angels could perhaps help with. People have lost faith and need it to be restored. Shame that this version of Venus Cove was never written. One could cut out a few scenes of purple prose describing the furniture in rooms or how nice love feels or whatever, and actually draw blood from this boring plot-stone, but it never happens.

Bethany outright states at one point that she is secretly glad that she wasn’t dispatched to somewhere in the world that was seriously needy, because the mere news images of these events is enough to make her want to cry. Aside from this disgusting attitude towards the seriously disadvantaged in the world (hint: if you think that you getting upset at the sight of misery is more important than helping the people out of that situation, you’re a terrible person), she causes so much trouble in this book and her internal monologues often read like those of a spoiled four year old. We’re supposed to sympathise with her. Any time it is pointed out that Bethany is doing something wrong, she immediately shifts the blame elsewhere, whining about how she deserves happiness and everybody is ganging up on her, and it’s not faaiiiir.

The gender normativity in these books is stifling. I mean, of course, boys don’t like make-up but they do like engines, and girls must only ever want to talk about make-up or emotions. Girls are presented as irrational and men as rational. We’re supposed to like Xavier for his ‘black and white’ view on the world, or the fact that he thinks Bethany is too weak to carry her own damn school books. Xavier’s sister has an interesting personality, but she’s instantly drowned out and seen as this overly-bitter and flighty little madam. A girl named Taylah cannot walk ‘demurely’ because she is promiscuous, and Bethany uses every opportunity to shame the girls around her for being interested in their appearance. All the gender equality and feminist rhetoric that has been accomplished in the past century seems really distant from this book. You have an angel with supernatural powers as the main heroine, and you just make her into a weak little thing who can barely take two steps without needing to be supported by her man!

I could go on. This book is one of the absolute worst I have ever read, and I was foolish enough to thrown myself down on this blade again. One can only hope that the author has matured over the years and looks back on this book knowing there are major improvements she could have made if only she was emotionally mature enough to consider that internalised misogyny is not the way to make your female character look sympathetic, and nor is co-dependency a desirable romantic relationship.

1/5.

Relevant Links

Katya’s excellent review.
The Sparkle Project Review
Adornetto’s 2010 article on ‘Why Teenage Boys Suck More Than Vampires’.
Adornetto’s article on safeguarding one’s virginity.

 

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